By Mirriam Nasilele
From headlines that paint wildlife as ruthless killers to the overshadowing of environmental stories by political and economic dominance. This has negatively influenced the way we perceive nature. The media’s influence in shaping public opinion on conservation-related matters is pivotal. One of Zambia’s most noticeable challenges in reporting nature-related stories is limited coverage.
WCP Zambia, an organisation fighting to reduce nature crime by working with different partners to strengthen prosecution, and investigation systems and raise public awareness:
The Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the National Prosecution Authority, and the media.
Through their communications programme, took steps to understand the media landscape by hosting a media breakfast with journalists from both the public and private sectors. Several limitations were disclosed to reporting on conservation and nature-related stories. These include limited exposure to conservation experts, resulting in gaps in the storytelling.
Additionally, concerns about security and possible threats to careers when reporting on corrupt factual stories hinder the media’s ability to cover these important issues. Financial limitations to conducting thorough investigations or research on wildlife conservation stories also pose a challenge.
Despite these challenges, the media has the power to highlight the significance of nature conservation and its impact on various aspects of Zambian society. Zambia, known for its rich wildlife population and diverse species, faces significant challenges in protecting its natural heritage. Illegal wildlife trade, including ivory, pangolins, and other wild animal products, is among the significant threats to natural resources. Furthermore, the country grapples with many other nature crimes such as illegal logging, negatively impacting environmental protection efforts.
By focusing on relatable perspectives, highlighting achievements, and underlining the relationship between conservation, tourism, and society, journalists can adeptly convey the importance of conservation. WCP took a proactive step in this direction by launching an Environmental Crime Fellowship program, designed to expose experienced Zambian journalists to the detailed environmental challenges confronting the nation, including mining in protected areas , pollution, deforestation, poaching, and other environmental transgressions reshaping the familiar landscape. To enable the media to tell inspiring stories that propel action on environmental issues.
Further, practical approaches like sharing positive conservation stories and celebrating successful solutions to address environmental problems can encourage public interest. For example, the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) Zambia’s Community Conservation Banking (COCOBA) village banking savings initiative was introduced in 2015 as a solution to addressing various nature crimes surrounding North Luangwa ecosystems. This initiative empowers the local communities with sustainable alternative livelihoods that better their lives and that of their families.
According to Community Conservation Officer, Mr. Chrispin Mweemba for FZS, more than 1000 people have been trained in this program, which aims to combat poverty, a major driver of poaching, and deforestation including other forms of nature crime. The initiative forms savings groups of up to 30 people who meet weekly to discuss environmental issues and loan out their savings. Participants also start businesses like tailoring and gardening to improve their financial well-being and repay borrowed funds, reducing pressure on the natural environment. This community-based approach showcases how addressing poverty can lead to successful conservation outcomes and offers inspiration for similar initiatives nationwide.
The decline in natural areas and species caused by illegal activities reduces the appeal and profitability of protected areas for tourism and revenue generation, the country, and local communities that rely on natural resources for employment, educational opportunities, and overall community development, adversely affecting Zambia’s natural environment resources.
By highlighting the interconnectedness of conservation with tourism, economic growth, and the well-being of local communities, the media can bridge the gap between conservation issues and the public’s interests.